The birth of a refrigeration contracting company

March 30, 2000
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“Our office consists of four wheels — in 1999, we were home six weeks out of the whole year.”

John Kennedy, speaking above about Cheraw, SC-based Kennedy Refrigeration, the company he co-owns, started carrying his uncle’s tool pouch and chasing down tools during the summer of his freshman year in high school.

During that first year at his uncle Tom Kennedy’s small, independent refrigeration company, he thought his name was “Go get it.”

Located in Akron, OH, the company was in its 11th year when John joined the team. His uncle did only commercial refrigeration, with his main customer being a local chain of supermarkets.

The son of an engineer, John found himself naturally curious about how everything works — including heating and air conditioning. He pursued this curiosity by enrolling in an hvacr school in 1984.

A student by day, he worked for his uncle at night. This allowed him to gain a deep understanding of refrigeration, since he could apply what he learned at school to the “real world” on a daily basis.

Upon graduation, John was eager to expand his knowledge of air conditioning and heating. However, his uncle wanted no part of it, saying, “If you want to be good in the business, you have to pick one segment and specialize in it. The hvacr industry is too big to specialize in it all.”

Testing the waters

Acknowledging his uncle’s advice, John still made the decision to explore the industry and expand his knowledge. He hired into a national heating and air conditioning company in Cleveland, OH.

The service manager at the time had just added eight KFC accounts and had an interest in commercial refrigeration. John — hired on the spot due to his refrigeration background — was in charge of maintaining these accounts and gaining new ones.

He was also exposed to heating and air conditioning service and installations. That’s when he realized how large the industry was and just how wise his uncle’s words had been.

He returned to his uncle’s business in 1988 and spent the next five years doing commercial refrigeration installations and service-repair work.

In the late 1980s, John met Twila, his future wife, while working on a job. A journeyman pipefitter, she also completed a four-year apprenticeship that included plumbing, hydraulics, pneumatics, and hvacr. With all of this experience, it was refrigeration that she found the most fascinating.

A business is born

Within a few years, with their combined knowledge (and marriage), Kennedy’s Refrigeration was born.

During the summer of 1993, while attending a supermarket auction with the purpose of purchasing used fixtures, the Atlanta, GA-based auctioneer approached them about contracting with him to remove the remaining fixtures. He wanted the building to be completely empty, with all the electrical wires and water lines capped.

The Kennedy’s completed this job and went on to spend the next five years traveling across the country, taking out supermarkets for this auctioneer.

“John and I have always been hard workers and like all partners, we have our defined territories in the stores,” says Twila, “while respecting each other’s opinions on when and how to do things.

“I found my niche market,” says John. “Basically, the emphasis of traveling throughout the country is unique. We travel anywhere. It’s always a new town, different people, and new adventures.”

“Keeping in mind that each store is valuable real estate and taking all precautions that the equipment gets to its new home in good condition has been the secret to our success,” says Twila.

Kennedy Refrigeration has two full time employees — John and Twila. When they need additional help, the Kennedy’s hire employees through temp agencies.

“This method keeps our liability and worker’s comp expenses very low,” says John. It also suits the travel demands of the company well, because they can keep their travel and hotel expenses to a minimum by finding employees when they get to their new location.

Harkening back to his uncle’s comments about the size of the industry, John says, “We have chosen to specialize in the removal and installation of supermarkets and related equipment.”

How was your company born? What is your company’s specialization or do you offer more generalized services? How did you find your niche market or are you still searching? Contact Virginia Nowak at 248-244-6433 or nowakv@bnp.com (e-mail) and tell her your story.

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